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Breath, Eyes, Memory

Edwidge Danticat

Section Three: Chapters 24–27

Section Three: Chapters 22–23

Section Four: Chapters 28–29

Summary

Chapter 24

Three days later, Martine arrives in Dame Marie, on the back of a cart pulled by two teenage boys. Grandmè Ifé grabs a broom to anchor herself, but Atie is nonplussed. Martine is glowing, thin but otherwise healthy. Though it is Sophie's duty to approach her mother, she does not trust her legs to make it down the stairs without slipping. Martine breaks the battle of wills by going up to Sophie and taking Brigitte in her arms. She tells Sophie that she could not find the words to answer any of her letters, but that she has come because both Grandmè Ifé and Joseph asked her to make amends. Martine tells Sophie that the two of them began badly, but as Sophie is now a woman, they are allowed to start again.

Chapter 25

Martine changes clothes and gives out gifts. She offers to move Atie and Grandmè Ifé to the city, but Grandmè Ifé is content with her land.

That night Atie remains in the yard, staring at the sky. Martine cannot sleep and joins her. After a long silence, Martine asks Atie if she remembers the unpleasant stories Grandmè Ifé used to tell them about the stars. Atie remembers their father's pleasant stories, and his grand promises for their lives, which have fallen short.

"We come from a place," my mother said, "where in one instant, you can lose your father and all your other dreams."

Chapter 26

With her children home, Grandmè Ifé attempts to get her affairs in order. In the morning, she and Martine obtain a deed from the notary dividing the Ife land equally between Atie and Martine and Sophie and Brigitte. On Sunday, they plan to go to the cathedral to make advance plans for a mass at Grandmè Ifé's funeral. Meanwhile, Atie is nowhere to be found.

After Atie's distance at dinner, Grandmè Ifé asks Martine to take Atie to New York, knowing that she stays in Dame Marie out of duty. But Martine has already asked, and Atie refused to go.

Martine barely sleeps that night. Once she comes into Sophie's room and stands over Brigitte for a long time, tears streaming down her face. Sophie's body involuntarily freezes in anticipation of testing.

At dawn, Martine comes back into Sophie's room as she is changing Brigitte's diapers. The sympathy between them has returned. Sophie asks why Martine tested her, and Martine says she will answer on the condition that Sophie never asks her again. Martine explains that her only excuse was that her mother had done it to her.

"I realize standing here that the two greatest pains of my life are very much related. … The testing and the rape. I live both every day."

Grandmè Ifé appears at the door in search of Martine. The two women leave, and return a few hours later with a pan of bloody pig meat. That night, Atie is devastated to learn that Louise has sold her pig to Grandmè Ifé, taken the money and left the valley, without so much as a good-bye.

Chapter 27

The night before they return to New York, Sophie asks Atie if she and Brigitte can sleep in Atie's room with her. Sophie tries to comfort Atie, telling her Louise would have found the money somehow. Atie thinks that she has been a fool to consider Louise her friend, and that children are the only rewards of life. Atie considers Sophie her child.

The next morning, Martine and Sophie and Brigitte leave for New York. Atie and Grandmè Ifé come with them on a cart down into the marketplace, where Martine and Sophie and Brigitte get into a van. They bribe the driver to let them have the van to themselves, except for the old hunchback woman who has already gotten in. As the van pulls away, everything in Dame Marie becomes a blur, even the hill in the distance that Atie called Guinea, the mythic land in which they would all one day be reunited.

Analysis

The arrival of Martine brings narrative closure to a number of threads by invoking the symbolic power of home, landscape and return. For example, Sophie's trip from Haiti to Martine at age twelve is echoed by Martine's own trip to Sophie in Haiti some eight years later. The importance of place is reflected in the fact that Martine must go home to Haiti to make peace with the past, reversing her trip to New York some sixteen years earlier in order to break with it. The novel at large uses the tropes of travel, traveling and distance as ciphers for its characters' complex series of flights, returns and reconciliations, reinforcing this deep importance of place. When Sophie moves to Providence, when Martine and Sophie buy a new home, or when Joseph takes Sophie to Long Island, the experience of physically moving is an important counterpart to the characters' emotional states. Likewise, the novel is uncomfortable with such liminal places as the Maranatha Bilingual High School or Marc's favorite Haitian restaurant in New Jersey, places which do not belong definitively to either of two worlds and thus hold their inhabitants in a kind of limbo. At the end of this section, the ultimate symbol of place is invoked when Sophie looks up at the hill Atie calls Guinea, an actual physical manifestation of the paradise of the coming world.

Martine and Atie's conversation about the mess that their lives have become is a crucial attempt to locate the source of their betrayal. They have both returned to the place where they were girls, years later, their hopes dashed and their dreams laid waste. Their conversation begins in silence, attesting to the impossible weight of their grief and the pittance of words against it. When they begin to speak, comparing the stories that their parents told them about the stars, the contrast between parents is striking. Their mother, Grandmè Ifé, told them unpleasant stories, warning of the dangers of the night sky and symbolically of the world. Meanwhile, their father told them pleasant stories full of promises of how the world loved them and would fall at their feet. More than a simple difference of opinion or character, this disparity reflects the deeply different situations of wife and husband. Grandmè Ifé, aware of the harshness of the world and of its cruelty to women who do not conform, attempted to frighten her daughters away from the worst dangers. By contrast, her husband spoke from a masculine position of power. As one of the other half, he could afford to represent the benevolent masculine force, promising his daughters that his world would love them as much as he did. Thus, his death takes with it the thin shell of optimism and hope that he helped Atie and Martine to build against their mother's pragmatic desolation. Martine's final remark to Atie indicates that the masculine world is not kind to women who do not have a male advocate. In their own lives, Atie's emotional betrayal by Donald Augustin and Martine's physical violation by the rapist witness the devastation which can result.

Finally, Atie's abandonment by Louise marks the second great betrayal of her life, the first being Monsieur Augustin's decision to marry Lotus during Atie's young adulthood. Throughout Section Three, Louise appears as a deeply desperate character, willing to do anything she can to get the money to leave. She trails Sophie and Grandmè Ifé asking them to buy her pig, and she laughs easily with the Macoutes who come to buy soda from her stand. And though it is not immediately clear that she "used" Atie to get her money, the friendship was clearly imbalanced. Atie's prophetic remark to Sophie that she would miss Louise when she left "like her own skin" betrays the unreciprocated depth of feeling with which she has invested the relationship. Indeed, much of the friendship is invalidated by the fact that Louise did not bother to say goodbye. In the larger context of the novel, the story of Atie and Louise suggests the critical importance of ending to a story. The ending of love stories, relationships, and parables colors everything that has come before. For example, Sophie's hasty departure from Haiti at age twelve indicated the larger extent to which she was leaving the island with unfinished business, business which she returns in this section and the next to complete. Likewise, the dramatic end of Sophie's living at home, when Martine kicks her out for having "lost her virginity," suggests the layers of fear, assumption, jealousy, and self-inflicted pain which mediate their relationship. In this context, reconciliation is crucial, as it represents a chance to retroactively validate a story. In the case of family, it becomes all-important, as daughters represent their mothers' only real chance at love. Atie, devastated by Louise's loss, feels once again that she has been used for her company, her body, her presence, and not actually loved for who she is. Through her despair, she tells Sophie how much she has loved her as her own child. Atie's feeling that Sophie is the only person who has not betrayed her is echoed in Martine's own wish that she and Sophie be marassas, and in Sophie's own feeling that Brigitte is the only one who will never leave her.

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